Why am I getting these physical symptoms, this must be something serious, this could be a Brain Tumour, Dementia or Cancer. I need to call the GP asap to check it out, or I will die!
What is Health Anxiety?
Health anxiety used to be commonly known as hypochondriasis. It involves fearful beliefs relating to the individual misinterpreting bodily symptoms and concluding that there is something seriously wrong, for example, they have a life threatening illness.
These difficulties may also be reinforced through social cues e.g. reading about illness on the internet and using Google to read up on illnesses. In addition, someone suffering from Health Anxiety could also visit their GP regularly, more often than not resulting in the GP being unable to diagnose a serious illness for them.
These scenarios are understandably anxiety provoking and this emotion can exaggerate perception of fear and further reinforce beliefs. Individuals may become preoccupied with beliefs and engage in a number of behaviours such as avoidance of stressful life events, hospitals environments or reading about disorders and illnesses. They may even seek reassurance from health care professionals such as GP’s and hospital specialists more often than is required.
What happens during Health Anxiety?
1) Initial Trigger – this is usually a perceived or real physical symptom, or an external trigger (e.g. a Cancer advert on TV).
2) Uncontrollable Thoughts/Beliefs – the mind usually interprets the initial triggers in a negative way, and can start to make the person believe that ‘something is wrong’ or ‘a particular symptom is getting worse’, which then results in the person coming to the quick irrational conclusion that they may have a serious illness, for example, ‘this symptom must mean I have Cancer’.
3) Increase in Anxiety symptoms – the person may experience more intense symptoms of anxiety, especially if they have now started to believe that their symptoms could be life threatening. Some of the anxiety symptoms that maybe heightened may included:
- Muscular tension, tiredness or exhaustion
- Skipping, racing or pounding heart
- Changes in breathing rate / breathlessness
- Chest pain or pressure
- Dizziness, light-headedness, blurred vision, confusion, feelings of unreality and hot flushes
- Numbness and tingling in your fingers and toes
- An increase in sweating
- Widening of the pupils, blurred vision, spots before the eyes, a sense that the light is too bright
- A dry mouth, nausea or an upset stomach
4) Behaviours – the patient consciously or unconsciously may start to engage with several of the below behaviours:
- Checking in the mirror for signs of asymmetry, areas of discolouration, or new moles or lumps
- Poking, palpating or pinching of the skin, breasts, stomach or other areas of the body
- Examination of bodily excretions (e.g. saliva, urine, faeces) for signs of blood or infection
- Measuring parts of their body (e.g. using tape measure)
- Monitoring of bodily processes (e.g. taking pulse, checking blood pressure)
- Weighing of their body or bodily excretions
- Asking family members, friends, and health care providers about their symptoms
- Researching their symptoms on the internet or in medical texts
- Posting of their symptoms on internet sites to obtain others opinions about their symptoms
- Requesting of medical tests or evaluations, and second opinions.
Can CBT Therapy be used for Health Anxiety?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice Health Anxiety, and usually this therapy will target an individuals thoughts and behaviours to reduce the physical symptoms and intense anxiety feelings.
Guidelines produced by National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as the effective psychological treatment to overcome Health Anxiety, and it is why CBT is now a recommended choice of treatment by GP’s and Health Practitioners . According to ‘best evidence’ cognitive behavioural therapy not only has the best outcomes for the treatment of Health Anxiety but in follow up studies it has the best record for maintaining the gains in cognitive behavioural treatment in the long-term too.
We are a pure cognitive behavioural therapy service based in Nottingham and all our CBT therapists are highly skilled and have helped 100’s of clients overcome Health Anxiety. So don’t suffer in silence, call us and start making the changes today!